How to Create and Empower Social Support in Your Community
The issue in most disasters is not a lack of resources to resolve or reduce the negative impact of the crisis, but rather the poor distribution of those resources, whether they be physical, emotional, or financial. We are seeing this now, with panic buying, fear of recession, layoffs in certain sectors, and resource-hoarding.
This time around, though, we have a unique advantage. We are equipped with the digital infrastructure to distribute emotional and physical resources. Your online community can be one part of the solution. This is an opportunity to bring new value, previously unseen, to your community.
In today’s post, I will break down the types of social support needed during a crisis and how you can use the digital resources at your disposal to empower your community to become resilient.
Empower Social Support
When people feel fearful that their basic needs may be threatened, they may socially isolate and hoard resources. That’s why it is important to remind your community that social support is available so they know they are not alone in their fear.
Offer opportunities for some or all of the following social activities that will bring people into closer connection with one another so they may offer social support:
Entertainment: watch parties, memes, off-topic chats, virtual hobby groups.
Listening and holding space: in some communities, you are offering one of the only spaces where people can be vulnerable. Being pseudonymous or anonymous and talking with people whom you don’t see in real life often opens people up to be even more vulnerable than they are with those close to them. You have a unique opportunity to listen and hold space for your members through online forums.
Creating bonds: Not everyone has close friends and family to call during a crisis. It is likely that you have people for whom this is the case in your online community. How might you help privately assess if someone needs social support and then help them make new connections? Consider private needs assessment surveys or other means to identify those who want to make new connections during this time.
Deepening bonds: Of course, if you have a tight-knit group of people already coming together, use this as a time to talk honestly about how people are doing. And make sure to do things other than talk about the current crisis.
Bridging: As a community manager, you are in a unique position to connect people directly to one another, both within your community and outside of it. You can act as a bridge from members to other members or from members to your staff.
Your community members all have resources they can share. Not everyone will be equipped to share them or even see how much they have to share, so in times like these, you can step up to create a space for asks and offers. Then you can help organize the distribution of physical resources but also access to collaborators who they can work with to create resources to share more widely.
Conduct an anonymous needs assessment survey.
Create a spreadsheet of asks and offers that allows your community to collaborate.
Gather with your core community leaders or admins to get a high level understanding of what needs they have identified in their subcommunities.
Watching the news all day is exhausting; please do not spend all your time taking in new information related to the current crisis. Instead, dedicate a small amount of time to information-sharing in your community.
DO share information about how your organization is responding to the crisis but don’t make it all about you. If your organization is not doing anything to respond, reconsider that approach. You have many, many resources if you have a creative team around you.
Only share updates that are relevant to everyone. Don’t inundate with news.
Put together informational resources specific to your community’s needs. For instance, check out this informational resource on hundreds of other resources for online meetings and events, organized by facilitator Nancy White (thank you to Bill Johnston for sharing these resources in his weekly community gatherings!).
Consider creating hyperlocal groups where people can share up-to-date information based on their geographic boundaries.
In times of crisis, many lose their jobs, healthcare, and security. The basic needs outlined in Maslow’s Hierarchy are threatened. Your entire organization may feel threatened, down to its core. Now is not the time for hoarding though. What financial resources can you give or receive during a time of crisis? What financial resources can you help people organize and distribute?
Raise money with GoFundMe or Crowdrise, and/or pledge to match any donations.
Revisit your annual plans and decide what you should stop doing in light of the crisis and what new financial needs emerge that you can help people meet. If you save money in one area, you can invest it in another.
This one isn’t easy and, depending on your resources, may be the most challenging to tackle. There is never 100% financial security. That does not exist. If this feels overwhelming, skip it and focus on another area.
Social support does not just happen by magic. It happens because communities make space and create the conditions for it. During these times it is not your job to solve all the problems and have all the answers, but rather to create the conditions for mutual aid. Make sure people can find one another, share their needs, and help each other. Yes, some of us are more impacted than others during a crisis, but we cannot look at things as though we are either saviors or victims. We need one another. Offer what you can; receive what is given.
Please know that if YOU are struggling during this time — feeling up and down, overwhelmed, frenetic, and everything in between — that is 100% normal. For us online community builders, it can be hard to get the support we need at any time, but especially when it feels like everything is in disarray. I hope you will join me as I embark on a journey to teach and steward sustainable leadership practices for online community builders during this time.